Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Presses

There are two presses in America: The cynical press and the idealistic press.

For awhile in my brief days as a newspaperman I thought the cynical press was the idealistic press, but it was I who turned out to be cynical.

[Photos from wikipedia entry for printing press, commons license, see wikipedia for more on the license. Same goes for White House picture below, except it is under White House, not printing press.]

Lest you get idealistic about the idea of an ideal press, let me point out that Adolph Hitler, and maybe Ronald Reagan, were idealists.

The cynical press essentially looks for the bad in everything. They are the muckrakers, the "investigative reporters," and sportswriters.

Well, okay, there's also the pandering press, of which sportswriters also tend to be a part, but the pandering press really isn't about news, it's about putting people's faces in the paper and sucking up.

The cynical press is going to attack whomever.

The idealistic press is going to stand up for their ideals. My country, may she ever be right, but right or wrong, my country.

As long as it is a Republican country.

This is why Barack Obama has an image problem. If he were a Republican, the cynical press would be attacking him, but the idealistic press would be supporting him. But he's a foreign-born socialist muslim, so the idealistic press attack him.

The net result is that, unlike his predecessor (the worst President ever to desecrate the White House), Obama has no public voice of support.

If the Huddled Masses are actually swayed by the shrill of the press, then there's some chance the Cons will retake control and finish the job.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stray Paper

One summer during college my friend Ty White and I discovered the Film Forum. The Film Forum was an artsy movie house on the fringes of downtown Atlanta run by Bestoink Dooley, of Big Movie Shocker fame, who challenged the mores of the time by showing such radical flicks as "W.R. - Mysteries of the Organism," and "A Clockwork Orange." I'm pretty sure he got shut down once or twice. That's also where I saw "Alice's Restaurant."

Among the other movies we stumbled into that summer was "The Music Lovers," a biography of Tchaikovsky with Richard Chamberlain in the starring role. This movie was taken extremely seriously by others in attendance, and I think developed some kind of cult status, but Ty and I thought it hilarious. It focused on the composer's homosexuality, and IMDB describes it as a "compelling and bizarre story"; little did we realize at the time how well it was typecast.

This was the first of a trilogic biopia of the classical composer genre directed by Ken Russell. The third movie in the trilogy was Lisztomania, starring Roger Daltrey of the Who. This was far and away the most publicized - and roundly criticized - of the three flicks, what with Daltrey in the lead (Russell had directed the movie version of "Tommy" earlier that year). I missed Liszt.

The one that moved me most of the trilogy was "Mahler." I don't recognize a single name from the cast (Robert Powell as Gustav Mahler?), and as near as I can recall we did not laugh once during the movie. It was as though Russell had made the equivalent of a tone poem, in reverse, a moving picture set as accompaniment to the music of the composer.

All of which is to connect to Tift Merritt's photography display in Raleigh last spring (2009), "Other Countries," which was hosted by the Mahler Gallery. I've got a neat little booklet from the exhibition containing copies of all the photos that were on display, along with some of Tift's notes about how the photos tie together with the time she spent in Paris writing the album "Another Country."

I went to the exhibit twice. The first time was the night of the accompanying concert at the Fletcher Opera House in Raleigh, when I was probably still contagious with what may have been the first case of swine flu to hit the Triangle. I'd been at MerleFest the weekend before (as had Tift), where there had been a Mariachi Band, and the first news of swine flu made NPR then. When I got back home, I started getting a sore throat, and the day before Tift's show I spiked a fever. It's even possible I passed the bug on to Tift, who was a bit under the weather a couple days later when she was performing in England. Anyway, not because of the flu but because of the concert, I was only able to rush through the Mahler.

A few weeks later, just before the exhibit closed, I convinced my wife to drop by the Mahler with me, and looked again at the the photographs. I noticed on the opposite wall a montage of scribbled notes lacquered to a canvas; I'd caught a glance of this part of the display the first time through but thought they were some other artist's work. On closer inspection, I discovered it was an assortment of Tift's actual notes as she composed the songs to "Another Country" in her Paris apartment.

Now, I liked the photos, don't get me wrong, there are some interesting portraits, nice geometries, and one or two excellent combinations of portraiture AND geometry. There are a couple of shots I believe from the Rodin museum - the same museum where my wife had bumped a pedestal and very nearly spilled one of Rodin's hands masterpieces onto the floor, where surely it would have broken.

But I was overwhelmed by the bits of text, which were both nicely arranged as a work of visual art, in themselves, as well as a window into the creative heart of the artist.

Tift isn't the only one who can work in a paper medium. My father, whose grandmother taught art in college and whose mother painted flowers on plates, always granted more credit to the artist than any other's line of work, and dabbled himself in the occasional medium (see his historical novel in a previous post). One of my father's diversions was a trip into making paper. His masterpiece, after 9/11 (top, left) hangs in my sister Janet's house. We have one of his several crosses (above, right); I'd argue his best.

Odd that my father would have specialized in paper crosses - he never went to church.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

To See or Not To See

I had a great-uncle DeWitt who lost his vision in a sawmill accident when he was young. At some point in his life thereafter he acquired a silver dollar, which he liked to hold in his hand and rub.

When I was young I lived across the street from Billy Flanders, whose parents ran vending machine racks. They collected coins, and since I was exposed to the hobby, I started collecting coins as well. In those days, one could actually find interesting coins in circulation. Today the only interesting coin in circulation is a wheat penny.

Since I was the coin collector in the family, I wound up with several notable coins, including Indian head pennies from my Mother's Mother's house, a 1909 VDB penny from my Father's Mother's penny jar (the penny has subsequently disappeared), and Uncle DeWitt's silver dollar. Uncle DeWitt rubbed a lot of the surface off that coin.

This leads to the latest commorative offering from the U.S. Mint, the Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollar.

I believe this qualifies as "irony." Commerative Coins are made to be looked at, not handled, especially proof coins. Braille, I figure, is meant to be felt, not seen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

.5 MT

I did not actually see that one while commuting this a.m. The train of thought started with "MT TANK" when I saw a stranded car.

So, to my point: The whole perspective of a glass being Half Empty or Half Full is backwards. Of course we understand every snapshot in time is meanlingless without context, and that words help shape ideas (or is it ideas helps shape words?).

How does a glass get to be half empty? By emptying half of it. It's a good state, unless maybe the glass was filled with hemlock. You've had half the experience of consuming, and another half to go.

How does a glass get to be half full? Sub-prime mortgages - "Sorry, sir, we can only afford to pour you half a glass."

... Now, about that self-delusional poem - "though, as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Diffuse a Bomb*

Cut the blue cable.

But first, cut the red cable.

*Okay, for one how (edit the edit; okay, this is ridiculous; typo not emendified) revels in word precision, this little homophonic error might be embarrassing if it weren't for a complete lack of readers. Boom.

**On further consideration, "diffuse" is probably correct in this context.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Sweetwater, by Forrest L. Smith, Jr. Enjoy the adventures of young Bob Smith and Chauncey as they survive childhood misadventures, the Civil War and thrive through Reconstruction. A different look at the old south.

Germania, by Brendan McNally. An absurdist portrait of World War Two Germany between Hitler's death and surrender.

The other two are about Tift Merritt. She's got a live album coming out, Buckingham Solo, recorded in an old church in England. I believe this one is the Tift-solo-acoustic version of, mostly, Another Country. Included is The Best Song Ever Written, as it was meant to be performed, "Trouble over Me."

Speaking of Another Country, the song is sung by Tift in the new Renee Zellweger romantic comedy, New in Town.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sara Maja

When I was little the options for watching movies on television were considerably more limited than they are today. Mostly it was the Late Show, which was on after my bedtime, Big Movie Shocker (with Bestoink Dooley) on Friday nights, and a daytime movie feature called Armchair Playhouse, which was on during school so I seldom got to watch that, either. Well, that and Saturday Night at the Movies, once it was added. Oh, and I guess there were the Moochie movies on Disneyland. Still, what with cable I can now watch more movies in a week than I saw throughout my entire childhood.

Ironically, those few movies were better than almost all of the ones I see now.

One of the movies I did see during one of those weekday afternoons, about Francisco Goya, was "The Naked Maja." I have never seen this movie since, but I recall it revolved around some scandal involving two versions of a painting, one wherein the subject was clothed and the other not. Let's see what the Internet has to say about this one ... well, there you go: The Naked Maja, and the Clothed Maja, in all their glory; and IMDB reports Ava Gardner, as Maria Cayetana, Duchess of Alba, and Anthony Franciosa as Francisco Jose de Goya, made in 1958; it gets only five stars. That's wrong. I am an expert on Goya solely as a result of having seen this movie.

So, last night Ken Tucker reviewed a new CD, "Fiction Family," from Sean Watkins and Jon Foreman on Fresh Air. I'm not sure if the review was favorable or not, but there was one song that he thoroughly panned. Okay, back to the Internet ... from the Fresh Air web site, "Fiction Family Debut Is Delicate And Industrious, by Ken Tucker." (Interesting that they capitalize "And.")

Tucker's criticism: "Sometimes it doesn't work, as in the maudlin 'Please Don't Call It Love,' with its weepy, sleepy violin."

Tucker neglects to identify the violinist, but judging from the "Fiction Family" web site it is likely Sean's sister Sara. I last saw Sara playing a ukulele, of all things, as the opener for Tift Merritt in Durham last spring; one supposes the transition is easier from one four-stringed instrument to the other? Sara did not stick around for me to take her picture that night, but, as you will see above, I was able to capture her in a Goya-ish moment back in aught-two. (Taken at MerleFest, at the same cement stage where I first heard Tift singing "Supposed to Make You Happy" the previous year.)

I imagine Sara was none too happy about Tucker's comments.

- Update from May 28: Sara is scheduled to perform at the Arts Center in Carrboro next weekend; and in an interview about her current tour and new CD, I read where she actually writes songs on the ukulele. Okay, that is an intriguing image, pencilling words between the strings. Composes songs on the ukulele?

Monday, January 26, 2009